Sunday, September 23, 2012

A new take on tart

I didn't waste any time putting my pastry lessons into practice, because soon after, five Wellington food bloggers came to my place for a pot luck Sunday lunch.  Heather brought me this fragrant basket of herbs and lemons from her garden and her own grapefruit marmalade.

The day before, I girded my loins and set about making my own short pastry BY HAND, using Dean Brettschneider's recipe from his terrific new book, Pie (Penguin Books). I took the precaution of buying a commercial packet too, just in case it didn't work - but it did, so well I was incredibly pleased with myself. (One thing did go wrong, but I'll come to that.) And though it took time, it was not difficult.

Basic short pastry 
(pâte brisée)
(My comments are in italics.)

160g standard plan flour
120g butter
good pinch of salt
50ml cold water

Put an ice cube into 50ml of water in a small Pyrex jug, let it melt, then pour out the excess.
The butter should be chilled but not hard. Cut it up into little dice.
Place flour, butter and salt in a large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, gently rub these ingredients together until they resemble rough breadcrumbs. Do not overmix, otherwise the butter will begin to melt from the heat of your fingers.

Add water and mix until a dough is formed.
(This is a bit unclear - I needed to add enough water so that the crumbs stuck lightly together, put it on the bench then gather it up lightly into a ball of dough.)
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for (at least) 30 minutes or overnight.
Gently rework pasty before using, taking care to ensure it remains cold and firm.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry into a sheet about 3mm thick, or as stated in your recipe.

When I rolled it out, the pastry was surprisingly resilient - it didn't crumble or tear easily as I thought short pastry would - so I was a bit worried. I had the oven on ready, so I baked a bit of trimming first as a trail, and was hugely reassured when it came out beautifully light and crisp.

I went ahead and blind baked an oblong tart case using a Swiss roll tin (see previous post for blind baking) and put it carefully away in an airtight box to be filled and baked again in the morning.
Everything worked, EXCEPT that my carefully pressed in sides, sticking up just a little as Sebastien showed us, shrank down. I worked out that I shouldn't have used the fan in the oven - straight "bake" would have been better. Fortunately I put in a shallow filling, so it didn't matter.

For the filling, I adapted the Harriet Harcourt recipe I've already written about here. She doesn't say to blind bake the case first, but I think it works well to do that if there's time. On top of the grainy mustard, instead of potatoes and brie, I spread bits of the roasted garlic I'd made the day before when I baked the case. (You trim the top off a head of garlic, drizzle a bit of olive oil over it, wrap it in foil and leave it in a 200C  oven for 45 minutes, then squeeze out the soft garlic inside - very satisfying.) Then I crumbled over bits of goat's cheese...

....and topped it all with the thyme and the  mixture of eggs and creme fraiche in the original recipe.

With a green salad and French bread, it went down very well. Then we moved on to Lucy's cheeses. with honey and hazelnuts ...

 ...and the four French desserts (sorry, I snapped only three of them - there were also chocolate eclairs!). Of course, we had to sample them all, but there were no complaints about this (as if). I laughed more than I have for ages, it was merveilleuse. Merci!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Feel the pastry fear and do it anyway

My best-of-the-best session at the food bloggers' conference came courtesy of Sebastien Lambert, the Patisserie Head Tutor at Le Cordon Bleu NZ. We all lined up at the beautiful big pastry table (just  like Julia Child, only Le Cordon Bleu here is brand new and better equipped - we were the first people to use it!) and watched as he took us through making a sweet short almond pastry and lining a tart tin. Then he produced a chilled round of pastry for each of us so we could roll it out and line a tin ourselves. We couldn't take it away, of course, but we did get to keep the offcuts, enough to put in the freezer and repeat what we'd learnt at home. The tart tin at the front of this picture is mine.

Almond pastry 
(courtesy of Sebastien and Le Cordon Bleu)
This is the recipe they gave us, but the instructions are based on what I watched Sebastien do. I don't claim that this is exactly correct - any mistakes are mine!)

Combine together 150g soft butter and 90g sifted icing sugar.

Mix in 90g ground almonds and a small pinch of salt.
Beat in 1 egg and a dash of vanilla (the vanilla is optional).
Mix in 250g plain flour until the mixture just comes together.

Gather the dough lightly together and use the heel of your hand to smear portions of it out in front of you, lifting each one as you go with a scraper and piling the pieces together, then combine them again.

Shape into a thick flattish round, cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight (or you can freeze it for later use). Next day, take it out and let it lose a little of its chill.

Dust the bench very lightly with flour and roll it out to the desired shape and thickness, keeping the dough close to you so that you can use your shoulder strength. Use enough flour so that the pastry can be moved around easily as you roll it.

To line the tart tin:
Brush the inside of the tin very lightly with melted butter.
Use a fork to prick the bottom, then turn the dough over so the pricked side will sit against the base of the tin. (This is because the fork makes tiny cone-shaped holes in the dough, and it's better to have the wider opening at the bottom of the cone on the underside of the pastry.)
Using the tin base as a guide, cut the dough into shape, leaving a border wide enough to leave a generous overhang.
Roll the dough very loosely over the rolling pin and unroll it neatly into the tin.

Gently but firmly press the dough into the edge of the base all around.
Use your fingers to trim off the dough all around the top edge of the tin, making sure to leave a neat little "rim" at the top, just slightly higher than the tin.

To blind bake the tart case: 
(These instructions are based both on what Sebastien told us and on what Dean Brettschneider says in his new and incredibly useful book, Pie.) 
Put the lined tin back into the fridge for 15-30 minutes.
Preheat oven (do not use the fan) to 200C.
Place dried beans or ceramic pie beads on a big square of baking paper in the lined tin - big enough to stick up all around and allow you to lift out the beans/beads easily).
Bake the case for about 15 minutes, until it has turned golden brown.
Take out the beans/beads and brush the bottom of the case with egg wash - 1 egg well beaten with 2 tablespoons of water.
Put the case back in the oven for 5 minutes to colour and seal the base.
You can then fill the case and put it back in the oven, or cool it ready for a cold dessert filling, or keep it in an airtight container overnight and use it next day.

I haven't used my leftover sweet pastry yet, but for the very first time I've made my own plain short pastry properly, not in the processor - by hand! And made savoury tarts with it. I'll write about that next week.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Time for a little something...

...or rather several little somethings - a few personal highlights from the Wellington Food Bloggers Association Conference (all the more fondly remembered because this wretched cold has robbed me of my taste buds! Thank heavens it didn't happen until AFTER the conference....)

So, first up - CHOCOLATE. we registered at the Hotel Intercontinental, which generously gave us the run of its Chocolate Festival (and an amazing goodie bag to go with it). The best bit for me, in the all-too-brief time we had there, was the Heilala Vanilla Chocolate Factory. I was already keen on Heilala - they originally set up their vanilla growing and processing operation in Tonga as a village aid project, giving a great boost to the local economy. They give away stunning little recipe books with their products. And they put a jar of their incredibly useful vanilla paste in our goodie bags.

Swiss chocolatier Rene Fellmann showed us how to make superbly simple chocolate "ribbons" that stand upright and can be filled with ganache (here's the ganache recipe - I'm going to try it as soon as I get my taste back).
You just melt the chocolate (here he's using a hairdryer to make sure it stays melted), smear it into a strip on a wide ribbon of cellophane, fold the ribbon so that the ends of the strip join, set it upright, and peel off the cellophane.

Then he folded a piping cone out of bake paper - "Swiss children learn to do this in kindergarten" - and piped zig-zag squiggles onto more cellophane strips. You can leave them flat for cake decorations, or fold them over a rolling pin before they set, then slide them off.

I reckon I might be able to manage all this - it really did look easy.

Next, BEEF WELLINGTON, the centrepiece of our lunch at The Tasting Room. A while ago I bought myself Dean Brettschneider's new book Pie, and getting to eat this immensely satisfying old-fashioned dish I haven't had for years has made me determined to try making it soon - beef fillet, pate, pastry and all.

But it wasn't all eating! No - there was also DRINKING. And two of the best things I got to drink weren't even alcoholic. I've always been partial to fizzy drink, ever since I was little and dad used to bring home a crate of small bottles - raspberry, creaming soda - as a Christmas treat. Six Barrel Soda Co started off making soda syrups because Joseph Slater ran a lounge bar and couldn't find what he wanted to concoct  traditional cocktails. Now they've taken over one of my old haunts, Eva Dixon's cafe just off Dixon St, to make syrups which can only be described as sophisticated. You can try them there, and eat as well. Their spicy "kola nut" was a revelation - completely different from the big commercial cola brands. And like many of the producers we met over the weekend, they go to great lengths to find ingredients that are both organic and fair trade. As well as kola nut, they're making lemon, cherry & pomegranate, raspberry & lemon, lime, vanilla cream and ginger. A few different kinds of really good syrup are brilliant to have for cooking, especially fruit - I plan to use the ginger one to bake rhubarb in...

In the afternoon, what else but TEA? We got to try a Wellington exclusive. T-Leaf T. Again, as organic and free trade as possible, a huge range, wonderful fresh flavours - my favourite was a New Zealand special, kawakawa fire - and the Cordon Bleu kitchen's lemon macaroons were pretty good too.

Here's the beautiful Japanese blooming tea, Golden Jasmine.

Next week I'll write about my very own Julia Child Cordon Bleu patisserie moment with Sebastien.